Math Adventures – Part A

I spent a couple of hours last night tooling around the Internet, continuing to search for a certain type of math book, the type that exhorts a covert ‘math through the back door’ approach.  In the past Max has been keenly aware of my efforts to help him become solid on his multiplication tables or some similar mathematical task.  He resists those efforts as if they were the cause of the plague!  Hmm.  Maybe he knows something I don’t.   He has hypersensitive ‘math-dar’ on board and proceeds to shut down if I pull out some flashcards or place a worksheet in front of him.  Even when he attended a small charter school, math worksheets and workbooks flipped his switch to OFF.  He saw them as drudgery, something he must endure (I feel that way about most variables of housework.)  Math was quickly becoming a minefield, one that I had to carefully pick my way through lest a meltdown occurred.  I have a feeling this might be a common reaction in bunches and bunches of kids out there, too.

We reached a critical point of resistance and something just didn’t  ‘feel’ right.  Intuitively I knew that I was going about this the wrong way and he had picked up on my ridiculous anxiety about learning rote memorization math facts.  Children are our barometers – they are intrinsically linked to us and are most certainly aware of our anxieties.  Not to mention the fact that he just plain hated worksheets.  That’s what was probably going on – not the psychobabble stuff.

Truth be told, it wasn’t Max’s problem.  It was mine and I needed to change my philosophy about all of this math business.  I needed to RELAX and let him absorb those math facts when he was darn good and ready, when he saw a logical use for them.  Right now they mean nothing to him and he could care less.  Relaxing is precisely what I am trying to do.  Well, sort of.  Okay, maybe I’m just a smidge more relaxed about it than I was a couple of months ago.

Thus the task has fallen to me to help him see that math can actually be quite an amazing subject, one that is fluid and exciting, one that encompasses a vast body of cool stuff way beyond division, fractions and percentages.  One that makes a difference in daily life or helps us to understand the world around us, one that helps us to see differently.  I needed to let go of my own preconceived notions about math and try to carve out a fun journey through the subject.  Julie Brennan’s website, helped me begin to light the way.  Reading about her philosophy radically changed my thinking and my behavior.  I set out to fill my Amazon wish list with ample resources, resources I’ll eventually have to weed down to a more reasonable number at some point, but I piled them in there so I can share them with you, too.  While reading some of the descriptions and comments about a few of these books, my heart began to beat faster!  Never, ever did I think I’d become excited about math books.  That’s what is so surprising about life – our philosophies can gradually shift and mold themselves to suit us as we change and grow.  We surprise ourselves.

So……here are some examples of a more well-rounded, less tactical, much more fun approach to teaching and learning math.  Julie recommends taking it slowly to see how your child responds to the shift in philosophy.   I could not be happier nor more relieved to report that it’s working for Max.  So far he’s enjoying looking at math through the eyes of Penrose, the mathematical cat, as well as the books written by Marilyn Burns and company.  See the post on how to head whining off at the pass under the math category for more information about those books.  I’ve included excerpts from comments readers have left about the books below because many of these I do not yet own or have not yet checked out from the library; they are on this list because there was that magical something about the book that flipped MY switch to on!

I would be amply pleased to spend our entire year on just these books and maybe toss in some math games here and there.  In my view, this is laying a unique and thoughtful foundation for more math to come later on.  If we don’t look at another worksheet for the rest of the year, then that’s fine.  Really – it is!

These are not organized in any particular fashion – just random craziness, which generally works for me on most days.

Please click on the books to find more information about them and as always, check your library for them first!

I need to start out this section with a cheer for Penrose and his mathematical mistress, Theoni Pappas.  We are almost finished with this book and will be moving on to more Penrose shortly.  Max nearly always asks me to keep reading into the next section – we have been introduced to some fascinating concepts through the eyes and ears of a cat.  It’s very cool.

Here’s the continuation of Penrose’s journey.  I would be remiss not to mention Penrose.

More.  Can never have enough!

Poetry dances with math in poems for two voices.  Reviewers say it’s a lot of fun and kids seem to take to it.  Theoni Pappas is fab!

Again by Theoni Pappas.  Mathematical vignettes.  It got blasted (and I mean blasted) by one reviewer, but this person seems to have been struggling with a superiority complex?  Bent the whole review on pointing out the flaws.  That said, the book is meant to be an introduction to various concepts.

counting on Frank

This book contains wonderful illustrations of a boy and his unforgettable dog, Frank. The boy, as he’s referred to in the book, uses Frank as a unit of measure.  The boy also calculates fascinating and interesting facts about peas (his least favorite vegetable), humpback whales, his father and the bathtub.  It inspires readers to reconsider measurement and allows them to laugh at the same time.  It is a wonderful book full of interesting, if sometimes seemingly useless, facts about numbers, calculation and one amazing dog named Frank!


Greg Tang, the author of this whimsical collection of math adventure books, gets bonus points just for thinking hard about his titles!  Mathterpieces:  the Art of Problem Solving utilizes artwork from famous painters to help the reader problem-solve via grouping.


Greg Tang again.  Here you get a rousing dose of poetry to help you solve some tricky grouping problems.

grapes of math

Mr. Tang uses his mastery of riddle-making to develop skills in grouping, pattern recognition and orderly thinking – blink-of-an-eye problem solving because it teaches you to perceive patterns.

math for all seasons

A book with a similar theme as his books listed above; this on is suited for a younger set, maybe ages 4-8.

In this book, ‘W’ stands for ‘when are we going to use this stuff anyway’, which in MY book fits where my kiddo is at right now.  What’s the point?  A reviewer writes:  G is for Google explains complex math concepts in a palatable format. From “abacus” to “zillion,” detailed descriptions are combined with fun cartoons and illustrations that bring math concepts down to earth. Even adults can learn a thing or two from this book: for instance, how the German city of Königsberg, with its seven bridges, came to demonstrate the network theory. How many grown-ups really know the quantity of a google, the two ways of writing a google, and how this number got the name “google” in the first place.”  It’s a non-threatening, fun way to start laying a foundation for math concepts.  I like that approach – like it a lot.

This book is probably more suitable for a younger set, ages 4-8 maybe.  Cute book.  The main character uses her dog, Penny, to learn the difference between standard and non-standard measurements.

A review states, “Did you ever wake up to one of those days where everything is a problem? You have 10 things to do, but only 30 minutes till the bus leaves. Is there enough time? You have 3 shirts and 2 pairs of pants — can you make 1 good outfit? Don’t worry — it’s just the Math Curse striking! An amusing book about dealing with numbers in everyday life.”  Younger kids will see the silliness, older children will likely pick up on some of the funny subtleties woven into the text.

Math Appeal is Greg Tang’s sequel to The Grapes of Math.  His books encourage kids to think creatively and cleverly.  This one contains riddles that give clues to solve problems.

An out-of-control popcorn popper, a professor and his dog help to teach kids about the power of 10 and some exceedingly large numbers.  Author is David Schwartz.

I heard tell that this is an entertaining workbook for learning about big numbers.  David Schwartz’s attempt to increase math literacy sounds pretty effective.

Word problems gets some words added to become short stories of the mystery variety.  The hero/detective is Ravi, a fourteen year old who can examine a crime scene and use math to solve the ‘who dunnit’ part.  Classic deductive reasoning, maybe targeted to a middle  school or high school audience.  But definitely one to keep on the wish list until your child reaches that age group!

This is a book wrought with metaphorical mathematical magic.  A reviewer says, “Wendy Lichtman has created a fun mystery involving main character Tess, whose unique view of life has her imagining everything around her as it relates to math. Chapter headings include concepts such as “Graphs,” “Tangents,” “The Additive Property of Equality,” and “DNE” just to name a few.”  Please note that there are references to a possible suicide in this book and of course, the obsession over boys that teenage girls experience.  This might be a very good read-aloud book.

More teen life, metaphors and math.

When a school district opts to ban math, of all things, from its curriculum base, most of the kids faint from sheer joy.  Not Sam and Jeremy, however.  They set out to prove that math is useful and necessary in art, music, science, architecture, nature, patterns, etc.  One-page biographies of famous mathematicians are sprinkled throughout the book along with thoughts on chaos theory and probability.  This is a wonderful example of a Living Math approach.

A good resource to teach about the factor of scale.

A reviewer and teacher said, “I purchased this book as a way to provide my 6th grade math students with some fun ways to understand shapes. What I liked about this book was that it wasn’t just discussing shapes, but covered perimeter and area as well. The “magic tricks” made the class sit up and pay attention when I read them to the kids. And, they all wanted to try out the “tricks” themselves!”  Zachary, the main character, keeps forgetting that Friday is math show-and-tell, so he has to use ingenuity and everyday objects to demonstrate math concepts.

Imagine waking up one morning to find a cat permanently affixed to your cranium.  The cat will only go away if you can win a game of probability.

This author (Cindy Neuschwander) has produced a number of books in this series – highlighting a medieval plot mixed with a math concept.   This particular book helps to explain place value.

This is a ‘must have’ book for me, along with the second volume.  Volume one focus on moments of mathematical discovery experienced by Thales, Pythagoras, Hypatia, Galileo, Pascal, Germain, and still others. Volume Two dramatizes the lives of Omar Khayyam, Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, and others.

Because I’m getting tired…….I’m going to cut and paste reviews that are not copyrighted here to give you an idea about the rest of these resources.  “Here’s a delightful little book that combines the joys of mathematical recreation with some fine storytelling. It follows the Arabian adventures of a man with remarkable mathematical skills, which he uses to settle conflict and give wise advice. The tales of his travels involve the solving of mathematical puzzles and sharing insights from the minds of some of history’s great mathematicians. In reading it, you can almost smell the spices and feel the desert wind. You just don’t find this kind of atmosphere in books about mathematics.”

Okay, all signs are pointing toward my bed.  My energy reserves have officially left the building.  I can no longer see straight or think well.  I will pick up where I left off with many more fantastic books about math adventures!


One Response

  1. […] math foundation by reading all kinds of books about math and play games about math concepts.  Penrose taught us math through the eyes of a cat, The Great Number Rumble was a fab read about how math is […]

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